MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display review

Has the Retina MacBook Pro finally come of age?

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display
The new MacBook Pro's Retina display puts normal screens to shame, but the laptop's battery is glued in place

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The late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display makes substantial gains over the previous generation, but changes are all internal – the basic form factor remains the same. The Retina screen is the same as before, with a native resolution of 2880x1800 and over 5.1 million pixels, and the only change to the expansion ports is the move to Thunderbolt 2.

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No doubting the design

The main improvement offered by the October refresh is the switch to Haswell processors, which boost battery life by using less energy than the last generation of Core-i chips. They have better graphics too, with an integrated Intel Iris Pro chipset in both models. The cheaper version reviewed here doesn't have a discrete GPU.

We liked

The screen is fantastic, boasting such a high resolution that the human eye can't distinguish individual pixels at normal viewing distance. When you've used a Retina screen, you're loath to return to a standard display. It really is that good.

The new Haswell processors are a definite step up in quality. Their low power consumption, combined with the power-saving features in the new OS X 10.9: Mavericks operating system, mean you can use your MacBook Pro for even longer than before without recharging, and Haswell's integrated graphics chipsets give a performance boost too. Naturally, we can but welcome the £100 price drop.

We disliked

Off the shelf, the late 2013 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is an excellent machine, but if you want to beef up its specs – maybe to increase the storage, or boost the 8GB of RAM you get out of the box on this 2.0GHz model – you'd better order online at the Apple Store and use the custom order options. It's almost impossible to upgrade after purchase.

We wish you could customise the screen by ordering online, giving a matte, low-glare option that used to be available on the old, pre-Retina MacBook Pros. Not everyone likes shiny displays. And as, unlike the 13-inch notebooks, the 15-inch models didn't get a price drop in the February refresh, they're expensive compared to their smaller-screen stable mates.

Final verdict

While a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina screen is still a substantial investment, for professional users, graphic designers and video editors, it's an excellent solution for computing on the move. Battery life is even better than before, lasting an astonishingly long time on a single charge, and it's one of the most portable 15-inch notebooks around. We wish it were cheaper, but even at its current prices, you're certainly getting a lot of notebook for your money.